Gender Equity Measured in Pronouns Per Page

Researchers chart the slow and unsteady rise of female representation in printed media by focusing on one part of speech: the humble pronoun.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

Using Google Books, a team at San Diego State University examined over a million books published in the United States between 1900 and 2008 to determine how frequently female pronouns appeared compared to male pronouns. As expected, the ratio of male pronouns to female pronouns is lower now than it was in 1900. What surprised the researchers was that it didn’t drop steadily over the intervening 108 years. “Th[e] ratio increased…in the 1950s and early 1960s – the Father Knows Best era, when women stayed in the kitchen and, apparently, off the printed page.” It wasn’t until 1968 – when feminism was starting to take off – that the ratio began to drop significantly.

What’s the Big Idea?

The researchers note that the fall and rise of this ratio mirrors the status of American women over time, both in print media and in real life. As more women obtained college degrees and entered the labor force, more female pronouns appeared, and this reflection of gender awareness had implications for society as a whole. “The implicit notion that women’s lives are important and worth documenting no doubt conveys an important message to young readers of both genders.”

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